MediaWatch: May 1988

Vol. Two No. 5

NewsBites:Sam's Slanted World Skew

Sam's Slanted World Skew. Coverage of May Day events worldwide offered a tremendous opportunity for political labeling. On May 1, ABC's World News Sunday anchor Sam Donaldson referred to "Soviet leader Gorbachev" and "Cuban leader Fidel Castro."

In an earlier report on rioting and demonstrations in Poland, David Ensor spoke of "Poland's leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski."

But when it came to political unrest in Chile, ABC suddenly changed its tune and used far more descriptive language. Donaldson declared: "In Chile, a country ruled by military dictator Augusto Pinochet, demonstrators opposing his rule drew police tear gas and other riot control measures."

Chancellor's Answer. From Canada to Mexico to El Salvador and Honduras, "anti-American feelings" are growing. So argued John Chancellor in a May 3 NBC Nightly News commentary. Who is to blame for this? The U.S. of course which, in the interest of good neighborly relations, should just sit back and let the Soviets achieve a base on the continent. Chancellor explained: "Diplomacy has been replaced in recent years by sloganeering and belligerence. Instead of making deals with the Sandinistas, the President said he wanted them to 'cry uncle.'"

Stahl Account. How liberal is CBS News national affairs correspondent Lesley Stahl? Appearing on Howard Cosell's since canceled Speaking of Everything interview show on April 10, Stahl repeated the ritual liberal argument "that the big tax cut, coupled with the increase in military spending, was an unhealthy thing for our country," insisting, "you simply have to raise taxes."

She expressed "surprise" Reagan "has not been an advocate of civil rights," concluding "the record is abysmal." On foreign policy she termed Reagan's performance at Reykjavik, where he rejected Soviet demands to drop SDI, "a disaster." Stahl and MacNeil-Lehrer reporter Judy Woodruff, who also appeared on the program, agreed things did improve after the administration "got rid of all the ideologues" like Caspar Weinberger.

Leftist Heading of the Class. ABC has allowed liberal actor Howard Hessman to use Head of the Class, a situation comedy, as a forum for his political views. The latest example occurred during the May 4 program when "Mr. Moore," the high school history teacher played by Hessman, asked his advanced placement students to predict what life might be like in 2038. One student, "Maria," castigated another for looking positively on the assignment, complaining, "What is fun about toxic waste, or acid rain, or even nuclear war?" She successfully depressed the class by warning: "Economic collapse is right around the corner. There's depression, there's famine, there's war."

Then scientific whiz "Dennis" chimed in, delivering this polemic: "Science today is just a tool in the hands of the superpowers. All they want to do are build things like Star Wars and lasers and beam weapons in space...I have just come to the realization that those people out there are using me, using me for their evil ends. Well, I'm not going to have any part of it."

A few episodes earlier, "Mr. Moore" spent a show praising the goals of 1960's protesters who were "trying to end the war" and "make the world a better place" because "they cared." One student tried to convince "Mr. Moore" he had achieved the proper level of reverence for the era by organizing a cafeteria sit-in to protest chemicals in the food. In an obvious swipe at the Reagan Administration, another student, "Darlene," complained "we're dealing with people who consider ketchup a vegetable."

Creating the News. The Sunday, April 24 Washington Post lead headline declared: "SDI Faulted in 2-Year Hill Study." The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reported the supposedly bi-partisan congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) claimed: "President Reagan's proposed missile defense system likely would 'suffer a catastrophic failure' the first--and therefore only--time it was used to protect the United States against a Soviet nuclear attack." Smith added: "The OTA report's overall conclusion is that, despite five years and $12 billion worth of scientific research, 'many questions remain about the feasibility of meeting SDI goals.'"

A little investigation shows how contrived the Post attack on SDI truly was. The Post didn't bother to check with the Pentagon about this report, which has not yet been released and has been delayed almost a year. Presidential arms control adviser Edward Rowney has since outlined the numerous inaccuracies of the 900 page OTA report. Significant technological progress has been made since the OTA report was filed almost a year ago, something the Post didn't bother to report.

But they also ignored the portions which matched Reagan Administration concerns. OTA noted that the first phase of SDI would be deployable between 1995 and 2000, but that significant parts of the program would be slowed or aborted if Congress continued cutting budget requests.

The unpublished report could be considered newsworthy. But the April 25 Washington Times reported the preliminary version the Post "discovered" had been around for two months. The night the Post story ran NBC Nightly News picked up on the "revelation" with reporter Jim Miklaszewski concluding: "SDI is already under budget and arms control pressures...and this latest report certainly won't help." It just shows how easy it is for the Post to create news matching their liberal agenda.

Planting the Closing Line. On April 21 the U.S. House passed a massive trade bill. It included a provision Democrats hope to turn into a campaign issue: 60 days notice before any layoffs, or pay stiff financial penalties. Almost immediately the networks joined the Democratic bandwagon.

Without debating the issue of its effect on job creation, reporters dramatized its desirability by presenting anecdotal looks at the suffering of laid off workers. That night CBS News economics reporter Ray Brady weighed in with a story from the point of view of two Iowa Pork employees let go without notice. Six days later the Senate passed the bill. Brady dropped all pretense of balance and took up the cause, beginning his April 27 story: "At plants around the country they're fighting mad. Workers saying why shouldn't they get 60 days notice when fired executives get fortunes for leaving." Brady ignored the other side of the story. As economist Murray Weidenbaum explained on World News Tonight, it encourages companies to close marginal plants "because if you guess wrong, and you have to close it without notice, you're going to be socked with all kinds of sanctions."

Daring to Cut the Cheese. Back in 1981 the Reagan Administration launched a program to distribute surplus dairy products to the needy. Advocates of the poor and more than a few reporters ridiculed the idea. Now, as the surpluses dry up forcing the government to phase out the program, CBS is indignant. On the April 30 Evening News reporter Lynn Brown argued: "With no assistance, no food stamps, and now no cheese and powdered milk, working poor families could find it even more difficult to put protein on the table." A mother of four "can't understand why the government has to stop" the distribution.

Anchor Susan Spencer then introduced University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson to offer his solution: "I think we need to pay particular attention to the type of legislation before Congress put there by people like Paul Simon calling for a guaranteed jobs program. We can't wait for creation of jobs in the private sector."

Unemployment Plunges, But, But. . . The unemployment rate fell 0.2 percent in April to 5.4 percent, the lowest level in 14 years. How did the networks play the May 6 story? Here are two examples. On World News Tonight, ABC's Sheilah Kast announced: "[It's] good news for Republicans running for office, but there are some worries. At least one-fourth of the new jobs are part-time only and 800,000 people are still searching unsuccessfully for work after more than six months." Tom Brokaw opened the NBC Nightly News by reporting the development is "obviously good news, but you guessed it, it may mean bad news in the form of higher inflation."

Jacksonomics Over Reaganomics. How does The Washington Post compare Reagan's conservative economic policies to Jesse Jackson's far-left economic agenda? In an April 4 front page story reviewing Jackson's "bold" economic ideas, Paul Taylor wrote: "Jackson has said repeatedly that it is necessary to correct eight years of 'reverse Robin Hood,' during which Reaganomics 'has made the rich richer and the poor poorer.' On that claim, Jackson is well grounded in statistics."

Taylor is anything but "well grounded" in giving credibility to such a specious charge. Inflation, which hurts the poor the most, has been reduced to a barely noticeable level under Reagan and 14 million jobs created. And taxes? An April 5 Treasury Department report told the real story. When the top income tax rate stood at 70 percent in 1981, people making over $100,000 paid 15 percent of all taxes collected by the IRS. By 1986, with the top rate down to 50 percent, that level doubled to nearly 31 percent. Over the same period, the share paid by those earning less than $50,000 fell from 67 percent to 46 percent. So much for Robin Hood in reverse.

Rushing to Battle. On the first page of his new book, The Coming Battle for the Media, Curbing the Power of the Media Elite, William Rusher lays out his thesis: "In recent decades the principal media in the United States, responding to intellectual trends once dominant but now less so, have allied themselves with those political forces promoting liberal policies...and have placed news reportage at the service of those policies." In the following chapters he presents a persuasive case. Rusher outlines specific instances of bias and reviews the findings of numerous academic studies documenting one-sided coverage of major issues. Using some examples collected by MediaWatch, Rusher demonstrates the ease with which liberal activists obtain media jobs.

Rusher traces the evolution of modern day "attack journalism," arguing the media long ago stopped serving as a balanced check on government power. He contends the media has transformed itself from "objective observers of the political conflict" to "highly partisan participants in it" and "will have to be recognized, challenged and defeated as such." Rusher cautions that if reporters continue to censor conservative views, the American people may be motivated to demand stricter enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine and other limitations on their power. The thorough examination of the danger a politically aligned media poses to the political system is published by William Morrow.

Latching Onto Another Liberal Cause. The economic recovery achieves its 66th month of consecutive growth, a modern peace-time record of prosperity as the percentage of Americans employed continues to reach record high levels. Desperate, liberal Democrats are turning to exaggerations of the extent of hunger and homelessness to create a campaign issue. And they're getting plenty of help from the media. Newsweek Senior Editor Tom Mathews promoted their cause in a March 21 "news" article: "As a practical matter, the homeless won't get very far unless they can persuade a Republican to break with Ronald Reagan's policies--or elect a Democrat."

The entertainment divisions of the networks have also joined the crusade. In late March a CBS "Schoolbreak Special," a "powerful family special" on NBC, and an ABC prime-time movie dramatized the plight of homeless and hungry families. In ABC's "God Bless the Child" a social worker complained: "If they gave me what it cost to build just one of those, I could feed more people than that missile could kill." As economic columnist Warren Brookes wrote, "the networks had to resort to fiction" to make their case since there is no evidence hunger is on the rise and authoritative federal studies show the number of homeless is about one tenth what the CBS show claimed. As for blaming Reagan, federal housing assistance under Reagan has skyrocketed by 174 percent as nutritional program outlays have grown by 50 percent in constant dollars. But why let facts get in the way of emotional, politically charged drama?

Turner Turns to Teaching. The April "Janet Cooke Award" went to Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, owner of Superstation WTBS, for its seven-hour pro-Soviet documentary series "Portrait of the Soviet Union." Among its many false pronouncements, the show declared that the Soviet Union has freedom of religion and freedom of the press. The program credited the revolution with giving the young "the chance to succeed in a wider world--the kind of opportunities their grandparents fought for them to have."

Now Ted Turner has announced a cooperative agreement with Encyclopedia Britannica to market the series to U.S. school systems. The joint venture is already underway with three educational packages planned. Geared toward middle and high schools, the first package, seven 50-minute videocassettes with study guides, is already on its way to schools. The two other packages, ten slide shows and three films, will be in schools by September. These are targeted for elementary and middle school students. If Turner and Britannica have their way, this one-sided, pro-Soviet series will be the first glimpse school children will receive of the Soviet Union. The Media Research Center (MRC) is developing a nationwide campaign to stop this infiltration of Soviet propaganda into schools. If you would like an action kit, please write the MRC at the address below.

Hickory, Dickory, Crockran. On April 14 the Afghanistan peace accords were signed in Geneva. But before the day was over NBC's John Cochran was already complaining of U.S. violations: "Pakistan's President Zia has secretly promised President Reagan he will ignore that part of the agreement. The Pakistani leader will continue to allow the U.S. to use Pakistan as the conduit to smuggle arms and other aid to anti-communist rebels inside Afghanistan." Cochran concluded: "Some American officials privately concede they are open to charges of cynicism, by guaranteeing an agreement they fully expect to violate, at least technically."

But there was nothing "cynical" or "secret" about the American actions. If Cochran had bothered to follow the negotiations, or watch NBC News, he would know that the Soviets also planned to violate the agreement. On April 7, NBC's Chris Wallace noted that the Soviets had agreed to a policy of symmetry, explaining "if the Soviets can continue sending arms to the Afghan regime, the U.S. will continue sending arms to the rebels." Four days later, Andrea Mitchell of NBC noted: "And the Soviets told the White House this weekend 'no moratorium on arms to either side.'" Cochran is the one open to charges of cynicism, preferring to blame America first.